Madelynn Niles: NSPA Writer of the Year portfolio


Madelynn Niles

THE LAST HOORAH: As pins knock to the polished wood floor and the cafe kitchen bustles with business, the cafe line beside the arcade games grows longer and longer. Although the wait for food was long, the legacy of this old school bowling alley will surely be longer. Photo by Madelynn Niles.

I fell in love with storytelling the moment I scribbled down the script for my third grade spring play — a  Snow White meets Pokémon hybrid, which I still feel was a classy choice. When entering high school, I knew the newspaper room was for me, and I began seeking out stories in each corner of the school. This year was different. As all students faced remote learning, many for the entirety of the school year, stories became more difficult to pinpoint, and interviews became more difficult to connect with. With all of these changes, it became a year of finding unique stories, of connecting with the people inside them, and ultimately, of trying to capture them for others. 

A control pad sits silhouetted against the lanes — a marker of the alley’s old school charm. “Whenever I go to the Pflugerville bowling alley, it’s all modernized with touch screens and all that,” junior Olivia Linscomb said. “But at Dart Bowl you have the really old chairs, tables, the little control pads for screens, and it was great seeing the same faces every time.” (Madelynn Niles)

A trip down Dart Bowl’s memory lanes: 

The summer after my sophomore year, I went into this little bowling alley with a camera and a notepad, expecting a feature paired with some quick photos. As I reached out for interviews, however, it became clear that this was a much more special project. I scheduled Zooms with teachers, students, alumni, and at the end had over a handful of emotional, individual stories recounting memories of the old school alley. I had just attended a summer workshop on writing quick and authentic features, so I put my learnings to the test and put together this collection. 

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK: Nate Baugh earnestly peers at his first-grade friends during a Zoom call regarding rhyming words and syllables. The way Nate sees it, school just isn’t the same without seeing his friends in real life. “I wish my friends Griffyn and Caleb would zoom through the Zoom and out through my computer,” he said. “But I’m only left with this sausage!” Nate punctuated this sentence by holding up a piece of sausage from the kitchen and giggling so hard he nearly fell over. Photo by Madelynn Niles. (Madelynn NIles)

Kidding around about online school: 

Interviewing a first-grader, I learned, is a sure-fire way to test your interview skills. With the silliest dialogue and distractions, this story turned into one of my favorites of the year — an opportunity to capture a unique perspective upon the pandemic, and play around with a light-hearted and humorous voice. The story was so well-received that I went back for a silly sequel, which the boys took as a definitive celebrity status, and I was able to further find my voice in writing features.

As far as we can tell, Lucy is our protagonist. Her thoughts form the narrative of the film and, as things start to take a turn for the unclear, her mind is our guidepost in the storm.

Watching ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ encourages never-ending thinking about the film: 

As arts & entertainment editor on my staff and co-author of the N&N At the Movies blog, responding to films is another one of my favorite ways to play with writing style. Responding to media with media is a creative outlet for me, and with this review, I again explored finding my voice in text — something I have aimed to improve upon throughout the school year.

Senior piano major Luke Lozano donned the full Baroque-style costume to play the part and the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on his 265th birthday. What would Mozart have thought of the performance? “I think he would have been flattered,” Mozart’s Coffee Roasters owner Ken Leonard said. “Even though the world has changed quite a bit, and certainly music has changed quite a bit, that his music was played to a full house, and it wasn’t just contemplative seniors who love classical music; the majority of the people were young people.” (courtesy of Beth Thompson)

Lozano performs Mozart as Mozart at Mozart’s: 

This feature was a lesson in quick and concise reporting. After receiving the story assignment, I conducted an interview with three sources (one of which being the owner of the Austin coffee shop), and assembled them into a feature that same day. And while a test of my reporting skills, this feature also allowed me to practice finding a larger theme within a simple story — in this case, the joy music brings. 

From 3:30 until 8 p.m., today, the McCallum cafeteria was the site of a vaccine clinic for anyone 12 years or older. The clinic was sponsored by the Austin Latino Coalition and the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association. The clinic delivered first-dose Pfizer vaccine shots to 383 arms. (Dave Winter)

Mac vaccine clinic doles out 383 first-dose Pfizer shots: 

This story put my news reporting skills to the test, and as I darted through the line of hundreds on my school’s campus, taught me to be confident in interviewing strangers on the fly. Because the subject was prominent and pressing, I learned to quickly put together interviews and pictures for immediate reporting, with the hosts of the clinic responding and reposting the story to their own social media feeds in appreciation.